Shame ~ part of the Something Done in a Small Moment series ~ by Anna Aysea

As part of our Something Done in Small Moment series, Anna Aysea writes about a very poignant experience and her response to it.

As I turned left, into the long aisle with the detergent, I walked in on the heated brawl between mother and son. The boy could not have been more than five or six. Standing a few feet away from his mother, his little body was shaking with heaved sobs. Tiny fists clenched, and in between sobs he was yelling “No” to his mother at the top of his voice. She stood half turned away from him, without looking at the boy, she spoke to him in an undertone, without expression. Her words were like soft dripping poison, she was taunting and humiliating him. She told him that everything was his fault, that he should be ashamed of himself, that everyone in the store was now looking at him thinking he was a bad, foolish boy, that I was looking at him, thinking he was a stupid fool.

The mother spoke in a foreign language and was clearly under the impression that I could not understand her words, not realizing I happened to speak that language.

It was a battle of wills. She told him she needed apples and if he wanted to make himself useful, instead of making a fool of himself, he should stop making such a fuss and go and get some apples. Fists clenched, still shaking with sobs, the boy stormed off through the aisles.

Witnessing the drama up close, I had been pretending to be immersed in the various detergent choices. My mind on the tormented child, I made my way to the produce section of the large supermarket.  Still sobbing, the boy had found the fruit on the low display and started putting apples in a plastic bag.

“Hi there sweetheart, can I help you with something?”

Not looking up, continuing to shake with heaved sobs, there came a vigorous “No” shake with the head. I followed him as he walked to the self-service scales with the bag of apples. He tried to put the bag on the scales but the counter was way too high for him.

“Would you like me to help you weigh your apples sweetheart?” Again a vigorous “No” shake.

“You like to do it yourself, don’t you?” A vigorous “Yes” shake. Such determination.

“Shall I maybe lift you a little so you can reach the scales and weigh the apples yourself? Would that be okay?” A curt nod.

I lifted him, apples and all, and hold him high enough so he could reach the scales. Shaking and determined, he put the bag on the scales, found and pushed the image of apples and then the price sticker button. I carefully lowered him again.

“Well done, sweetheart! Yeah, I get you, I also like to do things by myself” A wan smile. The interaction seemed to to be calming him somewhat.

“Can you remember something for me, sweetie?” A nod.

“You are very brave, and a good boy. Never forget that. Always remember that, okay?” A nod.

I watch his tiny back as he walked away, returning to the battlefield. I felt powerless, wondering about the kind of adult he would become after the long war of childhood.

4 Replies to “Shame ~ part of the Something Done in a Small Moment series ~ by Anna Aysea”

  1. Dear Anna, A very sad story indeed. You spoke so kindly to the boy and I believe kindness can never be wasted, there will be something remembered in echoes of what is offered to the situation. I could not help but wonder how the mother learned to speak to her son that way, was she herself witness to a similar process when she was young, things can be handed down from generation to generation? May awareness break the continuation of such a cycle. Thank you, _/\_
  2. Thank you Mo,

    This parent clearly demonstrated a complete lack of empathy and she was most likely repeating the same type of abuse she herself must have been subjected to.

    An abusive environment in combination with a predisposition determines whether the development of empathy is halted in the child, the subsequent adult will then be devoid of empathy. Unfortunately once the development is halted, it cannot be reversed. Even though the adult may be able to learn socially accepted behavior to fit in, the innate lack of empathy cannot be undone later on.

    This child was clearly in an abusive environment and so had already one of the two factors present. If he has the predisposition as the second factor, the development of empathy will be arrested and he will turn into an adult devoid of empathy like his mother, continuing the cycle of abuse into the future generation. If he does not have the predisposition, and he is fortunate enough to have at least one empathic adult close by, helping him – grandparent, teacher, neighbour – that will ameliorate the abuse and hopefully prevent the arrest in development. After surviving the abuse and guided by his empathy, the adult will then be able to break the cycle of abuse.
    Mirroring empathy to children is really vital.

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